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Dubai executive shines light on a world without internet.

Jonathan Hill

In this digital age, you might think everyone around the world is connected. But one Dubai-based public relations specialist has travelled to nine remote villages in India to prove that's far from the case.

Jonathan Hill, a 46-year-old British expat, spent nine days in Maharashtra, India, learning about the lifestyle of a specific group of people who show you can get by without smartphones and social media. And forget electricity consumption, they power their homes with "cow faeces". They get by and make a living with some 'old-fashioned' marketing schemes.

Hill, who left his job at Emirates Airline -- where he had worked for seven years -- to complete a Master's degree in Marketing Communications, studied the Shakti (meaning 'empowerment') women in India as part of his dissertation. The aim was to show how a huge part of the world still remains offline.

More than half the world's population does not have access to the internet. In the connected world, businesses and individuals might target customers and clients through marketing and advertising campaigns, e-blasts and social media engagement. That's not the case in areas such as rural India.

"What I encountered was extraordinary," Hill told 7DAYS. "Rural women, who might otherwise be found picking crops, and who've had minimal exposure to the world beyond their village boundaries, have become entrusted with finding the future customers and indeed profits of a multinational consumer giant (Unilever).

Women in rural areas of India are being empowered without the need for modern technology

"In India, with a rural population of 800 million (bigger than Europe), tens of thousands of 'foot soldier' women are employed to literally walk into the countryside and sell household products under a micro-franchising scheme called 'Project Shakti'. In an era where the growth of companies has often put more and more distance between organisations and their customers, Project Shakti is a great example of marketing going back to basics -- face to face contact, personal relationships and word of mouth -- as opposed to word of mouse.

"According to Unilever, there are 70,000 Shakti women distributing products in 165,000 villages throughout India (there are over 600,000 villages in India housing 70 per cent of the population). The micro-franchising initiative is said to form 5 per cent of Unilever's overall revenue in the Indian market," Hill said.

However, Hill believes that today's modern marketing communications, such as social media, remains ineffective in rural parts of India. And what about him staying connected? The PR specialist admitted it was a "big decision" to resign from his post at Emirate Airlines to pursue his Masters.

"I've had a fantastic seven years with the airline and I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of an increasingly global brand, but it was time to do something different. The studying was a part of that. I wanted to learn a deeper part of this area," Hill said.

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Nov 14, 2015
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